Elijah-Cross-Moses Ninth Sunday

Even the winds and the sea obey Him. Matthew 8:23-34

INTRODUCTION

In today’s gospel reading, we have two miracles that are distinct from other miracles of Jesus. The calming of the wild storm at the Sea of Galilee was unusual because it showed Jesus’ authority over nature and how he could put down a natural disaster instantly with his command. The second miracle was an act of kindness in saving the lives of two men who did not seek his help and ended up destroying a big herd of swine. The people from the town of Gadara, instead of appreciating Jesus for what he did for the demoniacs, rejected him from entering their town. Let us welcome Jesus, the Lord of the universe, realizing that his coming in our midst would cause us some material loss, while gaining us eternal reward.

BIBLE TEXT

The Calming of the Storm at Sea.
(23) He got into a boat and his disciples followed him. (24) Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. (25) They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (26) He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. (27) The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

The Healing of the Gadarene Demoniacs.
(28) When he came to the other side, to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. (29) They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?” (30) Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding. (31) The demons pleaded with him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.” (32) And he said to them, “Go then!” They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned. (33) The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs. (34) Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.

INTERPRETATION

The Calming of the Storm at Sea.

(23) He got into a boat and his disciples followed him.

Jesus had a busy schedule in Capernaum preaching and performing many miracles like cleansing of a leper (Mt. 8:1-4), healing of a centurion’s servant (Mt. 8:5-13), curing Peter’s mother in law (Mt. 8:14-15) and many other sick people (Mt. 8:16). As a human being, he was extremely exhausted after all these and its intensity is clear from the fact that he was in deep sleep while the boat, that carried him and the disciples, was tossed around in the storm. So he wanted to cross the Sea of Galilee to go to the land of the gentiles where he was not known much so that he could take rest. The boats used by Peter and the sons of Zebedee for fishing were available for Jesus for his journey in the lake. Jesus took the disciples along with him so that they also could take some rest and learn from the activities that might take place on the way.

(24) Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep.

The Sea of Galilee, as it has been traditionally known, is not a real sea but a lake. It is also known as Lake of Gennesaret or Lake Tiberias. This pear-shaped lake is only 13 miles long from north to south and eight miles at the widest part from east to west. The circumference of the lake is only 33 miles and its maximum depth is 141 feet. It is the lowest fresh water lake on earth and the second lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea. The main source of water to the lake is from the Jordan River and supplemented by springs from the streams and wadis of the hills of Galilee. The water level and the size of the lake has gone down as centuries went by.

Violent storm  is possible in the Sea of Galilee because of its low-lying position of  700 feet below sea level surrounded by hills. Though the lake is usually calm, sudden and violent storms develop when the ice-cold wind comes over the snow-covered eastern mountains and drops suddenly through funnel like narrow mountain valleys onto the warm air of the sea.

Swamped by waves:  The word used in the gospel for storm is “seismos” which means earthquake because the storm was wild and shaky. The situation was so dangerous that even the disciples, who were fishermen and familiar with the sea, were frightened. The boat was tossed around by the high waves and the boat was nearly sinking. Though the storm was a natural phenomenon, it occurred at that time by divine providence. That allowed Jesus to demonstrate to his disciples that he, who was part in the creation of the universe, was also master of the nature. He had already showed his power over sickness and demons by many miracles.

Jesus was asleep: Jesus was too tired that the storm did not bother him. He was not frightened by the wild action of the nature because there was nothing for him to fear. He was sure that the storm could not end his life nor of his disciples because they had to continue their mission in this world. He might have been aware of the storm but was relaxing because he wanted to wait for the reaction of the disciples.

(25) They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

Jesus was sleeping in the midst of the wild storm so that the disciples had to wake him up. They were in desperate need of his intervention to save their lives and the life of Jesus. Though some of them were fishermen and had spent much of their life in that lake, it was their most challenging experience in that lake. They might have been impatient at the indifference of Jesus at that critical time. However, they who had witnessed the miracles of Jesus, believed that he could save them.

(26) He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm.

The disciples were in terror because of the unexpected and unusual natural calamity. Though they woke up Jesus with hope in him, according to Jesus, they lacked enough faith at that moment.

Jesus got up from the boat and scolded the storm as if addressing to a person or demon. That was Jesus’ way of performing miracles. For example, Jesus rebuked the fever when healing the sickness of Simon’s mother in law (Luke 4:39), and he rebuked the unclean spirit while healing a boy possessed with demon (Mark 9:25). The words of Jesus were powerful enough to calm the storm immediately. There was no slow process of calming down the storm in the natural way. The effect was instantaneous when Jesus performed the miracle.

(27) The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

The men were amazed: The use of “men” instead of disciples is indicative that there were other people besides the disciples in the boat. That could mean the crew of the boat and the disciples. The cause of amazement was that they were seeing for the first time Jesus calming the winds and the sea through his commands.

What sort of man is this: This would mean that those who witnessed the miracle began to believe in the divinity of Jesus because no human can control the nature just as Jesus did.

The Healing of the Gadarene Demoniacs.

(28) When he came to the other side, to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road.

Gadarenes:  After calming the severe storm, Jesus and the disciples reached their destination across the lake. They reached at Gadara, a town that is not identifiable now. It was a town six miles inland from the shore south east of the Sea of Galilee. The burial place and the pasture land for pigs would be naturally out of the town and could be near the sea shore.

Demoniacs from the tombs:  The demon-possession is presented as a common phenomenon in the gospels. Before the development of scientific clarity on the causes of diseases, the cause of many disabilities were attributed to the evil spirits. The demons were considered to be present specially at tombs and desert places. The demons were believed to be present from the beginning of the world. However, some were attributed to the spirits of the wicked people who continue their evil acts even after their death. Epilepsy (Mark 9:17-27), mental disorder (Mark 5:1-5) and physical disabilities like dumbness (Matthew 9:32-33) and blindness (Matthew 12:22) were attributed to the demons. When the sick persons were convinced that they were possessed by demons, they would produce symptoms of the demon-possessed. For such people, the cure could happen only when they were convinced that the demon had left them.

Savage:  The two demoniacs were fierce and could attack the travelers. So, people used to avoid facing them. Jesus who came to take rest, volunteered to help the demoniacs by expelling the demons from them. So, unlike others who avoided them because of fear, Jesus approached them with a kind heart.

(29) They cried out, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”

What have you to do with us?: Unlike humans, who still have opportunity to repent and reconcile with God, the demons have no chance of repentance or salvation. So they had nothing to do with Jesus. However, Jesus had something to do with the evil spirits. He came to liberate humanity from the bondage of Satan and demons. So the demons questioned Jesus, out of their worry, what he was going to do with them.

Son of God: The demons acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. They knew that the mission of Jesus was to redeem humanity from the bondage of demons. So, they were worried that their possession of the demoniacs was going to an end.

Have you come here to torment us? So far, demons had been tormenting the two men. Now, the demons were going to be tormented by Jesus by expelling them from the demoniacs.

Before the appointed time?: God has allowed the evil spirits to torment the humans only until the time of final judgement. (Enoch 16:1, Jubilees 10:7–10). The demons knew that the appointed time had not arrived. So they considered that they had the opportunity to continue tormenting the humans. However, Jesus who had power over the evil spirits, was going to expel the demons from the demoniacs and liberate them from their bondage.

(30) Some distance away a herd of many swine was feeding.

Swine was unclean for the Israelites (Leviticus 11:7). That is indicative that the town was of the gentiles. The Roman soldiers and the gentile population used to eat the meat of pigs.

(31) The demons pleaded with him, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.”

The demons were sure that Jesus was going to heal the demoniacs by casting them out. They did not want to go to into the “bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:1-2) that will happen at the second coming of Christ. If Jesus wanted them to leave, they make the request to allow them to enter in the herd of swine that were feeding at the valley leading to the lake. This shows the inferiority of the evil spirits upon Jesus, the Savior.

(32) And he said to them, “Go then!” They came out and entered the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned.

Here a question arises: Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter into the pigs? Though the two men were saved, has it not caused a great cost for the owner of the herd of swine and loss of employment for their keepers?

One explanation is that it was necessary to convince the demoniacs that the demons whom they possessed had left them. Jesus only allowed them to enter into the swine. He had no intention to destroy the animals. The life of the two demoniacs were more valuable than the herd of swine. Their fall into the lake was the reaction of the pigs after they were possessed by the evil spirits. It also had a spiritual meaning that the unclean spirits will look for the unclean men or animals to dwell in them.

Some interpreters consider that the owner of the swine was a Jew and the destruction of the animals was a punishment for violating the Mosaic law on keeping the unclean animals. Another view is that if the owner was a gentile, it was a message that whatever is unclean is not acceptable to the Lord. They belong to the unclean spirits and would be destroyed at the end.

(33) The swineherds ran away, and when they came to the town they reported everything, including what had happened to the demoniacs.

The swineherds were afraid of losing their job and were concerned on the blame they could face because of the destruction of the swine in the lake. So they ran in haste to report to their masters. They conveyed the incident to all the people in the town.

(34) Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.

The conclusion of the incident is tragic. People in the whole town came out to meet Jesus. They were not happy with their loss of swine. They were not concerned with the recovery of the two men who were possessed with demons. Their selfishness made them reject Jesus. Probably, they thought that the presence of Jesus could cause them more damage. They did not want to give up their unclean lifestyle. They considered Jesus as a destroyer of their material property than the savior of their souls. Because of their rejection of Jesus, he could not do any more acts of mercy for the people there.

This is in contrast to the Samaritans who welcomed Jesus into their town when they heard of Jesus from the Samaritan woman. Jesus had stayed with them for two days leading to their reception of the message of Jesus. (John 4:40).

MESSAGE

1. The boat represents church on which Jesus is present and seems dormant. Like the disciples who sailed the boat across the lake, we are in action to lead the church to its destination that is heaven. Storms happen in the history of the church at any unexpected time. We might feel like Jesus is not intervening in time to save us. This was the experience of the early church during its time of persecution from the Roman emperors. God intervened in time through Emperor Constantine to make the situation calm all on a sudden. We need to be patient and seek the help of Jesus when we face uncontrollable crisis in the church and in our Christian living.

2. The boat also represent our own lives where stormy challenges happen that might even affect our faith in God. However, we need to be aware that Jesus is with us and he can help us. Fear cannot solve the problem but Jesus can.

3. Though Jesus was tired and came across the town of the gentiles for rest, he took initiative to cure the demoniacs. Jesus’ concern to help those in need, even without asking him, should be a model for us in helping others.

4. The unwillingness of the villagers to appreciate Jesus for healing the demoniacs and asking him to leave their town are typical of some of the people in the modern times. Like the apostles and many other disciples of Jesus, we might also lose our material possessions when we welcome Jesus in our lives or when we follow him. Let us approach Jesus with a long term goal of eternal life and reward.

5. By asking Jesus to leave their town, the people were closing the possible flow of grace and healing they could get. The people who reject Jesus also do the same damage for them and their future generations.